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Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 06:20 pm PT (09:20 pm ET)

ITC to investigate Apple's patent case against Motorola

The U.S. International Trade Commission formally announced Tuesday that it is launching an investigation into Motorola smartphones in response to Apple's allegations that Motorola violated several multi-touch related patents.

Bloomberg was first to report the news of an official ITC investigation, which was posted to the ITC website Tuesday.

Motorola and Apple are currently embroiled in a set of lawsuits, each alleging that the other company has violated a number of smartphone patents. Motorola sued first in early October, claiming that Apple is in violation of 18 Motorola patents and had "refused" to license Motorola's technology.

In anticipation of a countersuit, Motorola then sought to invalidate 11 of Apple's patents related to the iPhone as a preemptive strike against the Cupertino, Calif., company. On Oct. 29, Apple fired back with a countersuit accusing Motorola of violating six multi-touch patents.

If the ITC rules in favor of Apple, it could block the importation and sale of Motorola smartphones in the U.S. According to the report, the new case is listed as "In the Matter of Mobile Devices and Related Software, 337-750, U.S. International Trade Commission (Washington)."

Earlier this month, ITC staff sided with Nokia in a patent case between Nokia and Apple. Apple had accused Nokia of infringing on 13 patents, but ITC staff said in a pre-hearing memo that Apple had failed to provide enough evidence of a patent violation on several of the patents. The ITC has opened investigations into complaints made by Apple and Nokia over alleged patent violations.

Apple also sued handset maker HTC earlier this year.

More recently, a new lawsuit filed last week by St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants alleges Apple violated patents it owns regarding power maintenance and processors.